Whatever Australia does, India seem to be finding a way to do better. Like Harsha Bhogle said, this Indian team is reminiscent of the Australian ODI team of fifteen years ago. There is a touch of invincibility about this side that boasts of a number of match-winners.
As India sealed the series with a spectacular win at Indore, their openers once again came to the fore with an attractive 139 run opening stand that made Australia’s joy short-lived.
The return of Aaron Finch was a major boost of Australia who were struggling to identify the right combination at the top of the order. They had experimented with Hilton Cartwright as Warner’s partner, but the newbie appeared absolutely clueless against the new ball. Finch’s imminent return was a huge solace for them but even if he hadn’t returned, Australia may not have persisted with Cartwright at the top.
After all, Finch and Warner form one of the most successful opening partnerships in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. They have 951 runs in 22 matches together (after this ODI) at an average of 43.22 with two century stands and five half-century partnerships.
India, who boast of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, another pair which has done exceptionally well at the top with 1049 runs at 47.68 since the 2015 World Cup, were dealt a major blow when the latter had to sit out the ODIs. However, his replacement, Ajinkya Rahane loves to bat at the top and seemed to be eager to grab his opportunity.
Rahane and Rohit Sharma are not the most successful of opening combinations. In fact, both of them are slow to get off the blocks, something which modern day cricket doesn’t allow. It’s all wham and bash from ball one and neither Rohit nor Rahane are in that category.
Modern day openers go after the leather from ball one and take the attack to the opposition. They rarely come better than Aaron Finch and David Warner. ‘Attack, attack, attack’ is the Moto of this era of cricket and the openers are vital in launching it.
On a flat deck, the spirited Aussie openers, buoyed by their reunion, went about smacking the usually impeccable Indian seamers, from the word go. Warner took the dominating role at the start with Finch playing second-fiddle. The southpaw raced to 42 in 44 balls with some eye-catching shots all around the wicket.
As the partnership raced to 70 in 13 overs, Finch had just 28 to his name. It was all Warner until then. Hardik Pandya, India’s version of Ben Stokes, then unleashed a magical off-cutter that had Warner in all sorts of trouble and castled the top of his middle stump.
But this time, Australia had a strong platform and the onus was on Finch and Smith to carry on the good work. With Indian spinners a constant menace right through the series, Australia needed to overcome that to put on a good total.
Finch seemed to be enjoying the pace on the Indore wicket as he donned the Warner-role in his partnership with Steven Smith. The 154 run partnership put Australia in the driving seat in the game and Finch raced to his eighth ODI hundred before falling to chinaman Kuldeep Yadav.
But if Australian openers were aggressive and brutal, India’s oozed class and elegance. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane aren’t the most belligerent of openers, but there is a thing about classy batsmen – they rarely fail on flat tracks which aids stroke-making.
Rohit Sharma was on the move when Pat Cummins, possibly unaware of his adeptness against the short ball, handed him a pacy bouncer. Sharma nailed the pull shot and sent the ball soaring over the square-leg boundary, to collect a maximum.
Two overs later, he took on Nathan Coulter-Nile with a drive so elegant that it would put the whole of Finch’s innings to shame. The Indian opener then massacred Kane Richardson out of Indore with a scintillating six in the ninth over. Rahane, until then, seemed content playing the supporting act to a rampant Rohit Sharma.
But something in him triggered off in the tenth over, when he unleashed some pleasing shots to pick up three fours in Marcus Stoinis’ over. Rohit, meanwhile, continued to tee off, thumping Ashton Agar over long-on to reach his 33rd half-century. Rahane had joined the act by now and pulled Agar and Stoinis for one boundary each.
The 17th over turned out to be an eventful one as Rohit Sharma picked up back to back boundaries off Pat Cummins before edging one to the keeper, only to be reprieved by Handscomb on keeping duties for the first time in the series.
Rahane then went on a boundary-hitting spree against Coulter-Nile, smashing three in three overs, and also scaling his half-century with the first. But the opening partnership ended with the bowler finding Sharma’s top edge with an effort ball that rose up to his throat. Cummins removed Rahane in two overs as both the openers departed in the 70s.
But they had given India a perfect launch pad with their sizzling 139 run partnership in 21 overs. With 294 to chase and the pitch expected to slow down, the start was crucial to India’s chances. Neither Rahane nor Rohit Sharma looked overawed by the target in front and played to their strengths rather than over-hitting the balls. The elegance and poise exhibited by these two trumped Australian openers despite Finch’s cracking knock.